The Year in Law: Supreme Court 2002
THURSDAY, JANUARY 9, 2003
The U.S. Supreme Court made news in 2002 but not for any rulings
it handed down. Instead, the year was notable for the court's refusal to
review a number of cases affecting Indian rights.
After delivering a string of defeats to Indian Country in recent years,
the justices passed over disputes involving taxation, sovereign immunity,
land claims and jurisdiction. In most instances, their action affirmed
favorable decisions to tribes although in a few cases the tribe
was on the losing end of the stick.
But when the court accepted two trust cases, tribes and
Indian advocates took it as a major setback. In April, the justices
agreed to review the Bush administration's challenge to the White
Mountain Apache Tribe of Arizona, which had won a $14 million
claim to fix crumbling school and other buildings on its
Two months later, a Bush challenge to the Navajo Nation's
$600 million coal lease victory was accepted, sealing the fate
for what many expect will be negative decisions.
And before the year was up, the court took on another Indian case,
the outcome of which will determine the extent of state police powers over
Indian land, an area that was traditionally off-limits until
the Nevada v. Hicks precedent of 2001.
The other big news related to the Supreme Court was a tribal
initiative to counteract those negative rulings through a public
awareness campaign that included the 2,800-mile Sovereignty
Run to the high court. Draft legislation was also developed, with Sens.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)
set to promote it in 2003.
Oral arguments were heard December 2 in the two trust cases.
Observers were taken aback because they viewed
the justices as more favorable to the White Mountain Apache Tribe. A panel of
attorneys who have argued cases before the court predicted
a victory for the Arizona tribe but wavered on the Navajo Nation dispute.
Whatever the outcome, it will be significant because Bush officials said
they will use it to determine the extent of their responsibilities
to Indian beneficiaries. The lower courts will look to it to determine
whether money damages are due for breach of trust.
* Panel reacts to Supreme Court
* Court considers Navajo dispute
* U.S. pressed on
officials seek guidance on trust fund
* Navajo royalty case accepted
* Don Hodel's Navajo
* Court to
decide limits of trust duty
* Bush wants
Navajo ruling reversed
* Leave no Apache
Tribes sought for ways to assert criminal and civil jurisdiction over
their lands in 2002 through the Sovereignty Protection Initiative.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native
American Rights Fund (NARF) spent the year looking at legislation,
federal judges and ongoing litigation in hopes of staying out of
the Supreme Court.
* Federal judges a new concern for
* Tribes rally in support of
* 'It's going to change Indian
* Tribes seek to
overturn Supreme Court
challenges tribes on sovereignty
In December, the court agreed to decide whether state
police powers extend to tribal governments. In 2001,
the justices said yes when it involved individual
tribal members and many fear they will expand
state jurisdiction over Indian Country.
There were some bright spots, though. Regarding
the protection of sacred sites, the court
refused to hear a challenge to the Hoopa Valley
Tribe's authority over a non-Indian. The Mississippi
Choctaw Tribe's rights to adjudicate financial
disputes of tribal members was affirmed. And tribal
jurisdiction over child custody matter was
left untouched in Montana.
* State power over tribal government
* A busy first day for Supreme
Court declines tribal challenge
When it came to natural resources, tribes who were victorious at the lower courts had their victories reaffirmed
in 2002. The Supreme Court rejected challenges to water rights
in Nevada, land claims in Arizona, environmental control in Wisconsin
and eagle feather protection laws nationwide.
* Supreme Court denies tribal land
to eagle feather law denied
* State challenge
to tribe's authority rejected
Court rejects water challenge
* U.S. fights
state for tribal water rights
bolsters argument with Indian law
* Appeals court
upholds eagle protection laws
Taxation in Indian Country has always been a touchy issue but
the Supreme Court didn't think so. An attempt
by the state of Montana to tax an Indian-owned business was
rejected in December. Idaho's campaign to impose a gas
tax on tribes was also turned away although another
challenge is still in the federal court system.
* Court rejects Indian taxation
* Mont. argues
right to tax Indian business
* Idaho tribes
score victory with tax ruling
* Supreme Court
declines tax case
In 2001, the court ruled against an Oklahoma tribe's immunity defense.
But it shied away from similar challenges throughout the year.
Tribes in Arizona were protected from suits without their consent
while a Michigan tribe was unable to overturn an arbitration-related decision.
* A busy
first day for Supreme Court
Court asked to take on tribal 'terror'
Indian gaming is a hot item throughout the country but not at the
Supreme Court. The Tigua Tribe of Texas lost its chance to keep its
casino open in October and in June, a Michigan tribe moved
forward with its urban casino bid after a challenge to a lower court
victory was refused.
* Supreme Court
won't review Texas casino case
* Court halts
casino projects on behalf of tribe
* Tribe ordered
to close 'unlawful enterprise'
* Texas battles against tribes
to tribal casino win denied
It wasn't an Indian law case exactly but the Supreme Court in
October consider the arguments of an Alaska Native partnership
that invested billions in the wireless industry. A ruling
could be moot, though, as the three Native corporations involved
reached a deal with the Federal Communications Commission to
obtain a refund of their money.
* Native corporations withdraw FCC
* Native corps to receive wireless
* Supreme Court
to rule on wireless auction
There were other issues, like federal recognition, the
court considered in 2002. For more on these, consult
some of the updates Indianz.Com provided throughout the year.
* Supreme Court Docket:
* Supreme Court beginning new term
Court Update: 2001-2002 Term
Court considering Indian cases